Shyamal Hembrom, 30-year old Santal, on Sunday evening was brought dead to Dinajpur Medical College Hospital from Gaibanbdha after he was hit by a bullet during clashes with the police and workers of Rangpur Sugar Mill, said a hospital staff and Jatiya Adibasi Parishad president Rabindranath Soren.
Rabindranath told New Age that at least 20 Santals were injured hit by bullets in the clashes and three of them are under treatment at Rangpur Medical College Hospital.
All the 1,500 Santal families fled makeshift homes at Shahebganj-Bagda Farm of Rangpur Sugar Mills at Gobindaganj, Gaibandha following clashes with the police and locals which left at least 30 injured from both the sides.
Rabindranath said that 20 Santals were injured, all hit by bullets.
He said that all the makeshift houses of the Santals were set ablaze after they left.
Witnesses said that the clashes broke out when the Santals chased a group of sugar mill workers who came to reap sugarcane on the sugar mill’s plantation at around 10 AM on Sunday.
The Santal families had resettled on the plantation field about a year and a half back.
When police arrived at the spot about an hour later Santal men carrying arrows and bows attacked the police and the clashes ensued, said the witnesses.
They said that during the clashes they heard the sound of gunshots.
Sugar mill workers and activists Charrta League arrived at the spot soon afterwards and joined the police in attacking the Santals, they said.
The clashes intensified when the police and the mill workers began to evict the Santals from the sugarcane field, said Santals.
They that after fleeing the Santal families took shelter wherever they could.
Gobindaganj police station officer-in-charge Subrata Kumar Sarker told New Age that eight policemen and two locals were injured in the clashes.
He also said that none from the Santal community were injured.
The OC said that the police had gone to the spot to arrest wanted accused when the illegal occupants of the sugar mill’s land launched sudden attacks prompting retaliation from the police.
The OC said that the police had to open blank fires to bring the situation under control.
He said that illegal occupants fled when the police arrived on the spot.
‘Locals vandalized a few of their houses,’ said the OC replying to whether the houses of the Santals were set on fire and vandalized.
At 7 PM on Sunday, he told New Age that the drive to evict the Sntals was continuing.
Gaibandha deputy commissioner Md Abdus Samad, however, said that it was not a drive to evict anyone but to arrest wanted persons in different cases.
He said that after the police were injured they opened blank fire and the illegal occupants fled.
Communist Party of Bangladesh president Mujahidul Islam Selim and general secretary Syed Abu Zafar Ahmed, in a joint statement condemned the police attack on the Santals to evict them on the pretext of ‘protecting government’s land.’
Earlier, New Age reported that, the Santal families from different parts of the country came there and built makeshift dwellings and were demanding ‘restoration of ownership’ on the ancestral land following calls from a group of local influential people, mostly Awami League activists.
The Santal families said that the then Pakistan government forcibly acquired their ancestral land paying no compensation.
In 2015, the Santals formed Shahebganj-Bagda Farm Bhumi Uddhar Songram Committee under the leadership of AL activist Md Shakil Ahammad Bulbul and Md
Sahjahan Prodhan for the restoration of their ancestral lands.
And soon afterwards they built makeshift dwellings there, they said.
In July Shakil told New Age that he became inactive in the committee because he wants to recover government land peacefully as he feels there was no logic behind the Santal’s claims.